Most of you know that I’m not much of a cook. Michael has always cooked in our home for the nearly 22 years that we’ve been married, and it’s only in the last four years that I’ve cautiously ventured into the kitchen as a sous chef. I’m great at doing dishes and setting the table, but ovens—not so much! So you’ll be surprised to learn that my favorite excursion in Casperia was a cooking lesson with Jennifer, the daughter of the innkeepers. Four of us met her and her assistant, Claudia, at 4 p.m., and we worked for a couple of hours to help prepare dinner for the La Torretta guests that night. Jennifer used to work as a chef in a restaurant, but she just had a child, so she mostly stays home with the baby. When guests of the inn are willing to pay for a cooking class, however, she’s happy to teach one.
First we made tiramisu, because it had to chill for at least two hours. Most of us have eaten tiramisu at least once in our lives—it’s a combination of eggs, sugar, mascarpone cheese, lady fingers, strong coffee, grated dark chocolate, and unsweetened cocoa powder. I must confess that I’ve never been much of a tiramisu fan, but in Italy mascarpone is just better than it is in the United States, as are so many other things, including mortadella, which I simply cannot eat in the United States but which I love here! Anyhow, I liked this tiramisu, and it was a perfect light dessert following our dinner. We normally skip desserts (except gelato, of course), so this was really a treat.
Next we assembled saltimbocca, using thinly sliced veal. I’ve always been a saltimbocca fan, and it’s so darned simple! Place a slice of prosciutto and a sage leaf on a slice of veal, knit them together with a toothpick, dredge the resulting stack in flour, and cook it in olive oil and white wine. Simple and delicious!
Next we made pasta dough. Michael’s done that many times in Nellysford, so it wasn’t new to him, although I think he learned a thing or two. We first mixed flour and salt, piled it on the counter, made quite a large well in the center, poured in the eggs, and scrambled them gently, slowly incorporating the flour until it formed a soft ball. Pasta dough has to rest, so while it was resting, we moved to the next project.
One of everyone’s favorite tricks was parmesan cheese baskets, which were ultimately used as salad bowls. The only ingredient is parmesan cheese, which you sort of fry until it browns and melts and then roll it out of the fry pan and shape it into a bowl by draping it over a real bowl until it cools. Simple as anything, except I was nervous about burning my fingers—I’m such a klutz in the kitchen! One of my baskets was a little sketchy, to say the least, so we broke it up and ate it—yum!—and I made another one.
Our last project was making pumpkin, ricotta cheese, and herb ravioli from the resting pasta dough. We combined fresh cooked pumpkin with the cheese and herbs and seasoned it with salt. Jennifer then faced us from the kitchen, the four of us stood at a counter in front of her, and we simply mimicked what she did. We rolled (and rolled and rolled) out the pasta dough on lightly floured surface until it was extremely thin. Our pasta was never quite thin enough (who is, for that matter?!), because I got too much flour in it, but Jennifer’s and Kate and Nancy’s were both great, so we had plenty of the good stuff. Jennifer then taught us how to stuff the ravioli, making sure that we sealed them well so they wouldn’t explode when they were boiled. Apparently we were star sealers, because Jennifer said she didn’t have any explosions.
With that, we were finished. Jennifer opened a bottle of white wine, and we toasted our success. Jennifer and Claudia began cooking dinner, and the rest of us, covered with smiles and flour from head to toe, escaped to the great room to drink wine and chat with the other guests until dinner.
The dinner was excellent (of course)! I had a ball learning some kitchen skills, and Michael has already made the parmesan bowls in our apartment in Rome. Our kitchen is so small that we may never be able to make pasta from scratch while we’re here, but we know the ravioli tricks when we return to Virginia! Buon appetito!